Teaching English Abroad: 5 Cold, Hard Truths You Should Know Before Yo
Dec 1, 2011 Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) 2950 Views
No matter how many books you read and how many courses you take, there are some things about being an English teacher which you can only really learn through experiencing them for yourself.
As a result, you may end up turning up in a completely new country enthusiastic to start teaching, only to discover that things are not exactly as you imagined they would be.
Here are five English teaching truths which I completely failed to take into account before arriving for the first time in Argentina. Hopefully they will help you to go into your first job slightly better prepared than I was!
1. Teaching is Not a Holiday
My old man taught me to always give my all in any job I had, whether that was scraping squashed french fries from the floor of the local fast food joint or saving lives in an emergency room.
I've always done my best to keep this advice to mind, but I was sadly lax when it came to working as an English teacher for the first time.
You see, when you are living for a few months in another country, it's hard to escape the feeling that you are on the adventure of a lifetime. And that can really affect how you approach your job.
I'll be brutally honest: when I first found a job, I thought: 'this is a good way to make a bit of money and keep my travels going for longer'. In short, I failed to treat it as seriously as other jobs which I'd had in the past.
And language schools hate that.
What they hate even more is when foreign teachers up and leave without giving any notice because they want to catch a flight to Machu Picchu. Believe me, it happens.
It didn't take me long to work this out, and boy did I feel bad. So do yourself - and your new employer - a favor and treat your job seriously. Teaching can be great fun, but it should not be just another way to keep your adventure going until something better comes along.
2. A Basic TEFL Certificate Isn't Always Enough
If you've read any of my other articles then you may know that I only did a basic online TEFL certificate before leaving home, rather than a four-week CELTA or TESOL course.
I simply did a short online course and hoped that it would be enough - and in many ways it was. I walked into two jobs without any difficulty, and for what I wanted to do it was fine.
But it's not enough for every job.
There are some more prestigious language schools which will require at least an official qualification, and that's just in Argentina. Elsewhere in the world I'm sure there are places where no teacher would dream of turning up without an officially-recognized qualification. So just remember that it depends on where you are going and the type of job that you are expecting to find.
3. You Don't Get Paid to Travel
I knew that I was not going to be paid for all the hours spent planning my lessons. But what I did not think about was the travel time between classes.
I completely failed to take this into account, and it was only when I was regularly traveling one or two hours between classes that I realized I was wasting a lot of time.
A lot of the teaching work available, in Argentina at least, is corporate English, which means you often have to travel to different offices around the city for your classes. And Buenos Aires is a big, busy old city which takes a long time to get around.
This all changed when I started finding my own students, so that's always an option. Or you might want to find a job in just one language school if you can, which would mean only one trip there and one trip home again.
It's worth thinking about so that you don't suddenly find that you are busy every hour of the day and only getting paid for half of them.
4. Grammar is NOT Easy
If you've done a TEFL course or something similar then you will already know this. Hey, you may be one of the lucky ones for whom grammar is a piece of cake!
But if you go abroad with very little teaching experience and you have not done a course of any sort then you may well find this a bit of a shock.
I was of the opinion that because I spoke English perfectly, obviously grammar was not going to provide me with any problems.
But it did. Lots.
You might just be able to wing it if you are teaching beginners. But when you are teaching an intermediate or advanced class and they come to you with questions about why the past perfect is used in this particular situation and how these two complicated structures compare and when would be the right time and the wrong time to use them... you're going to be looking pretty stupid when you don't know the answers.
If you don't do a course then buy a book, read it, learn it, and make sure you have the answers your students are looking for.
5. Jobs Won't Always Be Waiting For You
You may think that because you speak English at a native level, your services will be in demand.
Well, think again.
Yes, it does give you a certain advantage, and yes, if you have the corresponding experience, skill, charm, etc, then it won't hurt at all.
But speaking English alone does not mean that you will be able to take your pick of the jobs.
Often there are perfectly good native teachers available who can do a much better job than you because teaching English is so much more than just speaking English at a native level.
Yes, native English helps. But it's not everything. I'm ashamed to say this was a bit of a shock to me, so hopefully it won't be for you.
Know What to Expect
These are just some of the things that surprised me when I started out teaching English abroad. There will be loads of other things that you will only work out when you actually arrive and start teaching, but I hope they've given you a bit more insight into teaching English overseas and what you should and shouldn't expect.